Madame Bovary

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Madame Bovary Part 3, Chapter 2 Summary & Analysis

Later that evening, Emma returns to Yonville. the driver of the coach tells her to go to the pharmacist’s at once. She walks in on a fight between Homais and Justin, who had made the mistake of taking a jam-jar from Homais’ private laboratory, the Capharnaum. The empty jar had stood next to a container of arsenic, and Homais shouts that Justin could have killed them all. When Emma finally gets his attention, Homais tells her quite bluntly that her father-in-law has died. Charles had asked him to tell her in a delicate way, to prevent a nervous attack, but the pharmacist was too distracted to carry out his task properly.
In this scene, rhetoric – the “delicate way” – is an empty, deceptive embellishment. It is not a more precise or more truthful phrasing, just one that obscures the truth or softens its impact. Like belligerent speechmaking, this sort of rhetoric is a means of controlling the listener’s reaction, but a “delicate,” surreptitious way that conceals itself – that de-emphasizes its difference from simple fact.
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Charles is waiting for her at home, and she feels a bit guilty when he kisses her hello. Over dinner, Emma thinks mainly of her own boredom. Hippolyte brings in her luggage, tapping painfully with his wooden leg, and she thinks that he is perfectly fine, after all, though he is proof of Charles’s stupidity.
Emma’s self-absorption is remarkable in this scene. She only cares about other people’s suffering when it directly affects her self-image – as when Berthe’s fall made her feel like a bad mother.
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The elder Madame Bovary arrives the next day, and they plan the funeral. Emma is annoyed by this distraction – she wants only to think of her new affair. Lheureux comes to speak to her about her debts, and to tempt her to buy more pretty things. He convinces Emma to take power of attorney over Charles’s debt. Emma presents Charles with the document, adding that she thinks the writing somewhat dubious. Charles suggests that she go to Rouen and consult with Léon, and she leaves the following morning.
Emma is selfish because she only understands love as personal happiness. The counterpart to Emma’s selfish love is Charles’s selfless love: a more or less unconditional joy in someone’s existence. The selfish sort of love seeks happiness, but is always thrown back on its own dwindling devices. The selfless kind of love finds happiness as if by accident – by anchoring itself in something external.
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